State Program Gets Mental Health Services to Kids Who Need it Most

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From the The Indianapolis Star

More than 100 Indiana children are receiving intensive mental health services under a new state program designed to close the funding gap that caused some parents to admit to neglect in order to secure help for their children.

The Children's Mental Health Initiative, which has rolled out in 50 Indiana counties, was created last year to help children who aren't eligible for Medicaid and whose private insurance doesn't cover the services they need.

Intensive mental health services can be extremely expensive, which put parents dedicated to providing care into a bind. Lacking services, some children ended up in the court system, as juvenile delinquents, or the Department of Child Services, as children in need of services.

For many, the program has been a relief.

"It's a real joy to help families we've struggled to get services for because we didn't have the resources before," said Bonnie Raine, systems of care coordinator for Elkhart and St. Joseph counties.

The Indiana Department of Child Services, Family and Social Services Administration's Division of Mental Health and Addiction and other agencies designed the mental health initiative to connect children with appropriate services without court intervention. It's meant for the most severe situations -- children who are dangers to themselves or others, sometimes involving violence or running away.

School officials, probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders and community advocates refer children in need of mental health services to a community mental health center. The site evaluates the severity of each child's case and recommends treatment options.

The initiative has been largely successful, said Lisa Rich, DCS' deputy director of services and outcomes.

About 290 children have been referred into the voluntary program since it began, DCS records provided earlier this month show. Of those, about 110 are receiving mental health services paid for by DCS. The rest either still are moving through the process, did not meet the level of need or were not accepted because they already had access to services through probation departments, Medicaid or the child welfare system, Rich said.

Children with less severe problems are referred to DCS' community partners program,which connects them with mental health services.

She said some parents also refused to participate in the initiative.

The majority of children participating in the program live at home. Five children ended up in short-term inpatient psychiatric care; two went to psychiatric residential treatment facilities.

"We want to try at all costs to serve kids at home," Rich said, "but there are some that just need that higher level of care."

DCS officials could not say how much they've spent on the program. The agency pledged up to $25 million per year to provide intensive services to the families that need it but can't afford it.

But the initiative hasn't worked for everyone. Four children accepted into the voluntary program later ended up in the court system. Three children now have open probation cases, and one has an open DCS case, records show.

Dan Arens, director of business development for Adult and Child Center, said enrollment has been a bit slower than expected for Marion and Johnson counties.

"They seem to be going OK, as far as I can tell," he said. "It's starting slow, but it seems to be something that the community will really embrace."

Adult and Child provides mental health and child welfare programs in Central Indiana.

Bonnie Raine said they've already seen improvement in children receiving services through the mental health initiative. Her access site, serving Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, was one of the first to roll out the program.

"We're really getting these kids at the 11th hour," she said. "Their cases would've been so much easier to manage if we'd gotten them earlier. Now that we have the pilot, we'll be getting them earlier."

DCS officials trained about 250 employees to conduct family evaluations in areas of the state that don't have the mental health program yet. Children who meet the level of need in those areas still need to go through the court system to receive services.

The initiative is a work in progress.

State officials are refining the method for providing services to children with both mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.

Kevin Moore, director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, said children who are dually diagnosed need services that not all providers specialize in or want to develop.

He said the key to the initiative's success so far is the state's concentration on helping children in the most dire circumstances.

"You really have to be focused on what you're trying to accomplish," Moore said. "It would have been easy to make it so broad that it would have watered down what we're trying to accomplish."

Rich said state officials rolled out the initiative in areas with the strongest network of mental health services for children. She said it will become more difficult as the state program moves into areas with weaker networks.

"We're still learning about the complex needs of these families," she said. "Whether it will solve all of those problems, I don't know."

Joshua Sprunger, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana, said the initiative is real progress for families with children who have mental illnesses. State agencies are working together proactively, rather than reactively, and officials are listening to families, he said.

"Our vision is that the state will provide affordable mental health treatment for every child who needs it, in the right place, at the right time," Sprunger said. "We're not there yet. We're a long way from it. But the children's initiative is a huge step forward.

"This absolutely changes peoples lives and saves people's lives. It's a work in progress, but it is good progress."

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Call Star reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski at (317) 444-6135. Follow her on Twitter at @IndyMarisaK.

 

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